Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wielenberg's Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism

On another occasion, I mentioned a review of Wielenberg's "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism", ( Faith and Philosophy 29:1 (2009), pp. 23-41) in Philosopher's Digest. Here is a link to Wielenberg's paper itself. The paper offers an undercutting defeater for claims made by Copan, Craig, Moreland, et al. that atheism can't provide an adequate meta-ethical basis for morality.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sudduth's Criticisms of Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief

Christian philosopher Michael Sudduth critiques Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief in "Can Religious Unbelief be Proper Function Rational?", Faith and Philosophy 16:3 (July 1999), pp. 297-314. Here is a link to an online version.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Early Christmas Treats

This is turning out to be a jolly little Christmas season for me. My Ph.D. diploma came about a week ago. Then, the other night, a package was delivered to my doorstep. It was a box containing several bound copies of my dissertation (Guess what my parents and in-laws are getting for Christmas?). Now if I can just get a call from a search committee for a tenure-track job interview...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hume's Abject Failure? Millican's Reply to Earman

In Hume's Abject Failure, John Earman offered a book-length critique of Hume's case against justified (testimony-based) belief in miracles. Peter Millican (Hertford College, Oxford) has offered a careful reply. Here is the link, and here is the abstract:

The centrepiece of Earman’s provocatively titled book Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument against Miracles (OUP, 2000) is a probabilistic interpretation of Hume’s famous ‘maxim’ concerning the credibility of miracle reports, followed by a trenchant critique of the maxim when thus interpreted. He argues that the first part of this maxim, once its obscurity is removed, is simply trivial, while the second part is nonsensical. His subsequent discussion culminates with a forthright challenge to any would-be defender of Hume to ‘point to some thesis which is both philosophically interesting and which Hume has made plausible’. My main aim here is to answer this challenge, by demonstrating a preferable interpretation of Hume’s maxim, according to which its first half is both plausible and non-trivial, while its second half sketches a useful, albeit approximate, corollary. I conclude by contesting Earman’s negative views on the originality and philosophical significance of Hume’s justly famous essay.

It's perhaps worth noting that Millican is currently the co-editor of the journal, Hume Studies.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Epistemology of Disagreement and Rationally Permissible Theistic Belief

Alvin Plantinga has asserted that if, after careful consideration of the evidence for and against a proposition, P, one still finds P persuasive, then one is in one's epistemic rights in believing P.[1] Relatedly, Peter van Inwagen has asserted that one can be justified in believing P, despite being unable to convince a true epistemic peer, if she enjoys an incommunicable insight into the evidence for P that her epistemic peer lacks.[2]

A key implication of Plantinga's and van Inwagen's theses is supposed to be that a theist can be epistemically justified or epistemically blameless in believing in God if, despite the existence of genuine epistemic peer disagreement, they have carefully considered the evidence for and against such belief, and still find that belief persuasive (Plantinga), perhaps in virtue of an incommunicable insight into the evidence for theism that their epistemic peers lack (van Inwagen).

The problem is that recent work in the epistemology of disagreement raises serious problems for these sorts of theses. The basic idea is that when one becomes aware that a true epistemic peer disagrees with you about some proposition P, then this provides an undercutting defeater for your belief that P. For a powerful recent defense of this point, and one that directly addresses Plantinga's and van Inwagen's theses above, see Earl Conee's paper, "Peerage" (draft: do not cite without permission from the author).

(Relatedly, this provides a substantive challenge to Plantinga's claim that it's absurdly easy to meet the demands of internalist rationality and justified belief).

Yet another example of the relevance of the epistemology of disagreement debate to issues in philosophy of religion.
----------------------------
[1] The Nature of Necessity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), pp. 218-221.
[2] "Is It Wrong Everywhere, Always, and for Anyone to Believe Anything on Insufficient Evidence?"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review of Paul Moser's The Elusive God: Re-Orienting Religious Epistemology

Bruce Russell (Wayne State) reviews the book for NDPR. Here is the link. I recommend also reading Stephen Maitzen's forthcoming review of the book for Sophia (available online for those with access to the "Online First" option for the journal).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Most Philosophers are Atheists

Details here.

HT: Prosblogion and Bradley Monton

UPDATE: Trent Dougherty takes an optimistic view of it, here. It'll be interesting to see how the comments play out on his post.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Evan Fales' New Book

Evan Fales' book, Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles, should be out on Dec. 9th. Here's the blurb:

This study is a new look at the question of how God can act upon the world, and whether the world can affect God, examining contemporary work on the metaphysics of causation and laws of nature, and current work in the theory of knowledge and mysticism. It has been traditional to address such questions by appealing to God’s omnipotence and omniscience, but this book claims that this is useless unless it can be shown how these two powers "work." Instead of treating the familiar problems associated with omnipotence and omniscience, this book asks directly whether, and how, causal interactions between God and His world could occur: both between God and the physical world (miracles) and between God and other minds (mystical experience), as well as between the world and God (divine perception). Fales examines current thinking (which is diverse) about the very nature of causation, laws of nature, and agency.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Wielenberg's New Paper in Philosophia Christi

I'm currently thinking about Erik Wielnberg's paper, "Dawkins's Gambit, Hume's Aroma, and God's Simplicity" (Phil. Christi, 11:1 (2009), pp. 113-128). The paper can be found here.

I have mixed feelings about the paper: I like it, but it overlaps considerably with a paper I'm currently working on, making my paper a bit redundant!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nathan Hanna on the Logical Problem of Evil

Nathan Hanna (Lawrence University) is currently working on a version of the logical problem of evil that is immune to Plantinga's Free Will Defense. Here is the link to the current draft ("Resurrecting the Logical Problem of Evil").

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Review of Jack Ritchie's Understanding Naturalism

David Macarthur (University of Sydney) reviews the book for NDPR. Here's the link.

Like me, Macarthur holds to a "liberal" conception of naturalism. The following passage from MacArthur's review captures my sentiments about more conservative forms of naturalism:

"Ritchie's strategy of taking up a position within the landscape of current scientific naturalism, however, leads to a blindspot about the range of viable naturalisms on offer in contemporary philosophy. He misses the possibility of a non-scientific or liberal naturalism that is arguably associated with such leading philosophers as Dewey, McDowell, Putnam and Wittgenstein. Such naturalism lies in the largely unexplored conceptual space between scientific naturalism and supernaturalism. It allows that one can respect science without supposing that science is our only resource for understanding humanity. Not everything that exists is explicable, or fully explicable, by science. There are many things in our everyday world of which there is no complete scientific theory but that are, nonetheless, presupposed by science -- e.g. tables, persons, artworks, institutions, rational norms. A liberal naturalism can more readily do justice to such things. It is also in a better position to ask whether there exist non-scientific modes of knowing and understanding tables, persons, reasons, etc. The best prospects for an account of rational or conceptual normativity ("the hardest task") are, presumably, neither scientific nor supernatural."

The Chemical Brothers - Where Do I Begin?

The Winter 2009 Issue of Philosophia Christi...

... is now out. Here is the link to the table of contents.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Erik Baldwin's Interesting Paper on Plantinga's Model of Warranted Christian Belief

Erik Baldwin is a graduate student at Purdue. He's also a visiting graduate student at Notre Dame, doing research at their Center for Philosophy of Religion. In his paper "Could the Extended Aquinas/Calvin Model Defeat Basic Christian Belief?", (Philosophia Christi 8:2 (2006), pp. 383-399), he raises concerns about Plantinga's model of warranted Christian belief. In the process, he does an excellent job of clarifying Plantinga's account.

P.S., Recall that Erik Baldwin is the one who co-authored this nice paper with Michael Thune (one of his former fellow grad students at Purdue).

New Philosophy of Religion Specialty Journal

The European Journal for Philosophy of Religion is a relatively new journal that focuses on issues in philosophy of religion. Here is the link.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The November Issue of Jobs for Philosophers: Doom

Well, it's official: This is the worst job season since at least the formation of the American Philosophical Association. The publication of the October issue of the APA's Jobs for Philosophers marks the official beginning of the year's philosophy hiring season. The number of jobs listed in that issue is down roughly 50 percent from 2008 (256 jobs, down from 507 jobs), and that was a bad year.

To make matters worse, the newly-released November issue of JfP has just 18 -- 18! -- new positions posted. Guesstimating, if you add to the newly-minted PhDs (e.g., me) the ABDs, the people who didn't get a job the last couple of seasons, and the tenured or tenure-track people seeking to switch institutions this year, there are probably about 1,000 job candidates on the market.

Fuck.

UPDATE: I stand corrected: this is not the worst job season on APA record (see the comments of the anons at 4:54PM (NOV. 7th) and 12:46AM (Nov. 8th).

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Link to Videos of the Recent "My Ways Are Not Your Ways" Conference at Notre Dame

Recently, the Notre Dame Center for Philosophy of Religion held an important conference discussing the prima facie (I would say "ultima facie") morally problematic character of the God of the Old Testament (e.g., God-endorsed genocide). The conference was entitled, "My Ways Are Not Your Ways: The Character of the God of the Hebrew Bible", and many leading figures in philosophy of religion presented papers. The videos for all the talks can be found here.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Stephen Maitzen's New Paper on God and Morality

We've noted Stephen Maitzen's excellent work in philosophy of religion on another occasion, but I'd like to note that he has since written and posted some more nice papers. His most recent paper, "Ordinary Morality Implies Atheism" (European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 2 (2009): 107-126) can be found here. Links to most of his other papers can be found here.

Btw, some time soon, I'd like to get a discussion going on his novel argument in "Anselmian Atheism", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Vol. LXX, No. 1 (January 2005), pp. 225-239.

Interesting Recent Exchange on the Problem of Natural Evil

Alexander Bird is known for his work on dispositional essentialism and, relatedly, his arguments for the metaphysical necessity of the laws of nature (a view which is growing in acceptance among philosophers, I might add).

Recently, Bird had an exchange with Michael Bertrand on the problem of natural evil in The Australasian Journal of Philosophy. The exchange is based on some brief remarks at the end of Bird's paper, "Unexpected A Posteriori Necessary Laws of Nature", Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83:4 (December 2005), pp. 533-548. Bertrand's reply, "God Might Be Responsible for Physical Evil", AJP 87:3 (September 2009), pp. 513-515 can be found here (requires subscription for access), and (the pre-print version of) Bird's rejoinder, "...And Then Again, He Might Not Be", AJP 87(2009), pp. 517-521, can be found here.

I find Bird's reply to the problem of natural evil the most plausible. Unfortunately, as he points out, it comes at a high cost, as it relies on a view according to which the laws of nature are metaphysically necessary, which in turn implies that miracles are metaphysically impossible(!).

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Excellent Recent Critique of the "Big Bang" Version of the Kalam argument

Pitts, J. Brian. "Why the Big Bang Singularity Does Not Help the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Theism", British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 59 (2008), pp. 675-708. Here is the link.

Perhaps it's worth noting that unlike William Lane Craig, James Brian Pitts actually has a PhD in physics.

UPDATE: Commenter "Pastor Tom" has kindly pointed out that Craig has offered a reply to Pitts. Here is the link. I leave it to the reader to decide whether Craig's reply is adequate.

Review of The Agnostic Inquirer: Revelation from a Philosophical Standpoint

Keith Parsons (University of Houston, Clear Lake) reviews the book for NDPR. Here is the link.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Interesting Discussion of Genocide and the Old Testament...

...at Prosblogion. We've noted Wes Morriston's recent paper on genocide and the Old Testament. It's good to see some of his arguments being discussed over there -- and Wes has joined the discussion in the comments.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Non-Physicalistic Materialism: Follow-Up Questions to Those from the Previous Post

Continuing the discussion from the previous post:

There are a lot of issues to untangle and sort out here.

 Let me start with this: Suppose there is just one kind of substance, and it has both ordinary physical properties and informational/representational properties essentially and fundamentally. Suppose further that it's an uncreated, eternal, and at least de facto indestructible substance (since it's a "free-standing", metaphysically independent sort of stuff, and it turns out that nothing else that exists in our world has what it takes to annihilate it). Call this "The Quasi-Spinozistic View".

On The Quasi-Spinozistic view, then, consciousness and other mental properties don't emerge from, and aren't caused by, the physical. Furthermore, no god is required to create such properties, anymore than a god is needed to make its physical properties. Finally, there's no special problem about where this substance came from or why it exists. For it never came from anything -- it's eternal and (de facto) indestructible.

Now given The Quasi-Spinozistic View of substance, here are some of my initial questions:

1. 

What's so implausible about such a picture of substance from a theistic point of view? Is it that we can't get the informational/representational properties without an external cause, like a god? Well, if this is a serious problem, then it's an equally serious problem for theism. For theism likewise entails that informational/representational properties are a basic feature of an eternal substance, i.e., God, and that both they and the substance in which they inhere (viz., God) lack an external cause. 

So theism has no epistemic advantage over The Quasi-Spinozistic View in at least these respects.

2. What's so implausible about it from an atheistic point of view? Is it that the representational properties aren't properly physicalistic, scientifically describable and/or observable properties? Well, that just faults non-physical properties for not behaving like physical properties. And why, in an atheistic universe, should we expect the world to conform to what's convenient for human interests?



So these are just some initial thoughts and issues I have. I don't know whether consciousness is reducible to the physical. All I'm interested in here is this: if it should turn out that it isn't, would that provide even slight epistemic support of theism over naturalism? At this stage in my inquiry, my suspicion is that the answer is 'no'.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Talk Amongst Yourselves

Question:

Is there some special reason to think that non-physical concreta can't -- or even probably wouldn't -- exist if theism weren't true? In particular, why think it's even slightly more likely than not that theism is true if, say, the mental or quasi-mental is a fundamental feature of concrete substances?

Just to be clear: The hypothesis on the table isn't that the mental supervenes upon or emerges from the physical. Rather, the hypothesis is that the mental or quasi-mental is part of the bedrock of concrete reality.

Thoughts?

UPDATE: Here is a link to the SEP entry on neutral monism. It also includes helpful descriptions of somewhat similar views (e.g., panpsychism, dual aspect theory, neo-Russellianism, etc.). Non-physicalistic naturalist views of concreta such as these seem to me to pose one sort of problem for apologetical arguments from consciousness to theism.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The World's Flags Given Letter Grades

Comic relief from philosopher Josh Parsons. Parsons grades the world's flags, here. The comments under various flags are generally hilarious (and his criteria are excellent, in my view!).

You're welcome.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The 2010 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology

The 2010 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology

Organized by
Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers)
Michael Rota (University of St. Thomas)

Recent PhDs and current graduate students in philosophy, theology, or religious studies are invited to apply to participate in the 2010 St. Thomas Summer Seminar in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology. Twenty participants will be selected; each will receive a stipend of $2,800 and will be provided with accommodations and meals for the duration of the seminar. (Regrettably, funding for travel costs cannot be provided.)

Seminar Dates: June 15 - July 2, 2010

Location: University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul, Minnesota

Topics and Speakers

The epistemology of religious belief Alvin Plantinga (Notre Dame) and Richard Feldman (Rochester)

Science and religion Alvin Plantinga (Notre Dame) and Elliott Sober (UW-Madison)

The cosmological argument Alexander Pruss (Baylor) and Peter van Inwagen (Notre Dame)

The problem of evil Peter van Inwagen (Notre Dame) and Evan Fales (University of Iowa)

The epistemology of disagreement Roger White (M.I.T.) andThomas Kelly (Princeton)

Reductionism and the philosophy of biology Alan Love (University of Minnesota)

Writing for audiences outside the academy Peter Kreeft (Boston College)

Application Deadline: Applications must be received by December 1, 2009.

Click here for more details.

Review of (ed.) Dean-Peter Baker's Alvin Plantinga

Edward Wierenga (University of Rochester) reviews the book for NDPR, here.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Jobs for Philosophers

Hi gang,

Sorry for the dearth of posts as of late. I recently (Spring 2009) got my Ph.D. in Philosophy, and this is my first (and, if things go well, last!) serious run on the Philosophy job market, which officially began yesterday with the publication of the October issue of Jobs for Philosophers. Unfortunately for myself and others going on the market, this is the worst job season in a few decades. In any case, polishing my dossier and sending out applications (on top of teaching and family matters) is pretty much all-consuming, and will be so for a good while. As such, posting may well be light for about a month or two.

Wish me luck!
EA

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Ok, One More Time, People...

In response to the effects of the California budget crisis on the University of California system, George Lakoff explains how California got into its current mess, and how we can get out of it. Learn it, know it, live it.

Hope!

I saw Hope Sandoval in concert the other night, in promotion of her new album, Through the Devil Softly:




Words fail.

Life's too short not to catch one of her shows -- God knows when she'll be touring again.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Baldwin and Thune's Recent Paper

Here's yet another example of the relevance of the current epistemology of disagreement debate to issues in philosophy of religion. Erik Baldwin and Michael Thune offer a defeater for properly basic belief in God in "The Epistemological Limits of Experience-Based Exclusive Religious Belief", Religious Studies 44 (2008), pp. 445-455.[1]

Here's the abstract:

Alvin Plantinga and other philosophers have argued that exclusive religious belief can be rationally held in response to certain experiences – independently of inference to other beliefs, evidence, arguments, and the like – and thus can be ‘properly basic’. We think that this is possible only until the believer acquires the defeater we develop in this paper, a defeater which arises from an awareness of certain salient features of religious pluralism. We argue that, as a consequence of this defeater, continued epistemic support for exclusive religious belief will require the satisfaction of non-basic epistemic criteria (such as evidence and/or argumentation). But then such belief will no longer be properly basic. If successful, we will have presented a challenge not only to Plantinga's position, but also to the general view (often referred to as ‘reformed epistemology’) according to which exclusive religious belief can be properly basic.

Worth a read!

--------------
[1] Btw, Thune's dissertation is on the epistemology of disagreement. He argues for a moderate view, according to which disagreement between two epistemic peers regarding some proposition P partially defeats each peer's justification for believing that P.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Otte and Plantinga's Recent Exchange on the Free Will Defense

Richard Otte is a philosopher of religion at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His work is characterized by applying the probability calculus to issues surrounding the rationality of belief in God. One can find links to many of his papers here.

Otte had an exchange with Plantinga on the latter's famous Free Will Defense (FWD) in a recent issue of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. In Otte's paper, he shows that Plantinga's definition of transworld depravity (TWD) is necessarily false(!). However, Otte goes on to offer an alternative notion that plays a similar role in Plantinga's FWD. Interestingly, Plantinga agrees with Otte's points.

Below are links to the papers:

Otte, Richard. "Transworld Depravity and Unobtainable Worlds", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 78:1, pp. 165-177.

Plantinga, Alvin. "Transworld Depravity, Transworld Sanctity, and Uncooperative Essences", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 78:1, pp. 178-191.

Paul Waldman on Glenn Beck

Here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dennett's Recent Paper on Descartes and the Design Argument

Here is a link to Daniel Dennett's recent paper, "Descartes's Argument from Design", The Journal of Philosophy, Volume CV, Number 7 (July 2008), pp. 333-345.


HT: Ryan

Review of David Sedley's Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity

J.F.P. Wynne (Northwestern University) reviews the book for NDPR, here.

Neil A. Manson

Neil A. Manson is a philosopher at the University of Mississippi. One of his primary research interests is the design argument, especially the argument from fine-tuning. He is the editor of God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science, and is the author of a number of excellent articles on the topic. Interestingly, although he is now a critic of the argument from fine-tuning, he appears to have once been a proponent it. On this, see his dissertation, Why Cosmic Fine-Tuning Needs to be Explained.

One can find his articles on the argument at his department webpage. For those unfamiliar with the argument, perhaps the best point of entry is his paper on the design argument written for undergraduates. After that, take a look at his Introduction to the God and Design volume. It provides a very clear and helpful overview of the key issues involved in the debate over various versions of the design argument, including the fine-tuning argument. From there, move on to his paper, "There Is No Adequate Definition of 'Fine-Tuned for Life". Then give a careful read to the journal articles.

P.S., if you have access to the journal Philosophy Compass, don't miss his article, "The Fine-Tuning Argument". The paper offers a nice overview of the contemporary state of the debate on the argument. The article is very helpful in particular for getting up to speed on recent discussions of the Multiverse Objection and the Normalization Objection to the argument.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review of John Foster's The Divine Lawmaker

Evan Fales (University of Iowa) reviews the book for NDPR, here.

A Problem for Plantinga's Proper Functionalism

The Argument: If theism is true, then, probably, none of our beliefs have warrant. But surely many of our beliefs do have warrant; therefore, probably, theism is false.

The Argument Expanded: If theism is true, then Plantinga's account of warrant is probably correct. Now, roughly, Plantinga analyzes warrant in terms of beliefs formed by properly functioning, (successfully) truth-aimed cognitive faculties in congenial epistemic environments. However, he rejects naturalistic accounts of function, instead requiring essential appeal to intentional design in any adequate account of function.[1] However, he also thinks God is a person with cognitive faculties, and that his faculties weren't designed. Therefore, on his own account, they lack functions, in which case, a fortiori, they can't function properly. But if not, then on his own account, God's beliefs lack warrant. But if God's beliefs lack warrant, then it's hard to make intelligible the notion of God as a competent designer of our cognitive faculties. Therefore, if theism is true, then our beliefs probably don't have warrant. But surely many of our beliefs do have warrant. Therefore, probably, theism is false.


UPDATE: I recently read an article in which (Christiian philosopher) R. Douglass Geivett and Greg Jesson raise roughly the same criticism against Plantinga's account of warrant. See their "Plantinga's Externalism and the Terminus of Warrant-Based Epistemology", Philosophia Christi 3:2, pp. 329-340.
==========================================================
[1] Plantinga argues for this claim in ch. 11 of Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford University Press, 1993). A more recent, explicit statement from Plantinga that proper function entails intelligent design, see Plantinga and Tooley, Knowledge of God: ". . . this notion, the notion of proper function, essentially involves the aims and intentions of one or more conscious and intelligent designers" (p. 29).  For a critique of Plantinga's claim here, see, e.g., Wunder, Tyler. "Anti-Naturalism and Proper Function", Religious Studies 44 (2008), pp. 209-224; and Bardon, Adrian. "Reliabilism, Proper Function, and Serendipitous Malfunction", Philosophical Investigations 30:1 (2007), pp. 45-64. (Btw, Bardon offers a nice revised version of Bigelow and Pargetter's naturalistic analysis of functions in the latter paper.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Devil's Lying Wonders

I just finished reading an interesting paper.

Assume, at least arguendo, that Humean arguments against the rationality of belief in miracles fail. Would it then be rational to believe that a given miracle is from God? John Beaudoin (Northern Illinois University) argues "no" in "The Devil's Lying Wonders" (Sophia 46:2 (2007), pp. 111-126). Here is the abstract:

That demonic agents can work wonders is a staple of much Judeo-Christian theology. Believers have proposed various means by which the Devil's work can be distinguished from the miracles wrought by God, primarily so that no one is led astray by the Devil's 'lying wonders. I consider the likelihood of our using the suggested criteria with any success. Given certain claims about the demonic nature and certain facts about the way theists often handle the problem of inscrutable evil, it seems unlikely that any of the criteria I examine can be relied upon.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In Memoriam: William P. Alston

I learned, via Prosblogion (and Leiter Reports), that William P. Alston passed away today. Alston was a leading philosopher of religion (see esp. his excellent book, Perceiving God), and also made outstanding contributions in epistemology (see, e.g., Epistemic Justification and Beyond "Justification") and philosophy of language (see, especially, Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning). I have learned, and continue to learn, much from his excellent work.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Review of Wielenberg's Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe

John Cottingham (University of Reading, Emeritus) reviews the book for NDPR, here. Wielenberg's book is an excellent critique of the common apologetic argument that without God, value and meaning cannot be accounted for.

Btw, Cottingham has a new book out defending religious belief: Why Believe?. The recent book seems to be continuous with two of his previous books: On the Meaning of Life and The Spiritual Dimension.

Friday, September 04, 2009

More Lolcat Weekend Funnies

Lolcat Weekend Funnies

On Craig's Standard Reply to Mackie on the Kalam Cosmological Argument

(slightly revised and reposted)

Suppose one were to believe in the possibility of a beginningless past on the basis of the following inference:

1. Every finite subset of events in a beginningless past is traversable.
2. Therefore, the whole set of events in a beginningless past is traversable.

This is obviously a bad reason for that belief. For to infer (2) from (1) is to commit the fallacy of composition.

Interestingly, William Lane Craig attributes this fallacious inference to the late J.L. Mackie in reply to Mackie's criticism of the Kalam argument in the latter's The Miracle of Theism.[1] It's perhaps worth noting that Craig repeats this reply to Mackie's criticism in virtually all of his books and contributing chapters in which he defends the kalam cosmological argument. Furthermore, Mackie's is arguably the main criticism he raises to his argument in these writings.

I think Craig's characterization of Mackie's criticism of the kalam argument here is mistaken at best, and uncharitable at worst. In what follows, I'll attempt to point out where Craig goes wrong in this rejoinder to Mackie. But before I do so, I'll need to set things up with a brief discussion of the relevant part of the dialectic between Mackie and Craig.

Mackie replied to the line of argument at issue that, ". . .[i]t assumes that, even if past time were infinite, there would still have been a starting-point of time, but one infinitely remote, so that an actual infinity would have had to be traversed to reach the present from there. But to take the hypothesis of infinity seriously would be to suppose that there was no starting point, not even an infinitely remote one, and that from any specific point in past time there is only a finite stretch that needs to be traversed to reach the present." (The Miracle of Theism, p. 93).

Craig's offers two main points in his rejoinder. First, he says that it’s Mackie, and not the proponent of the kalam argument, who fails to take a beginningless past seriously. For the latter construes such a past as having no beginning at all – not even one infinitely distant from the present. But if so, then this makes the problem worse, not better. For then one couldn’t even get going to make progress in traversing an infinite set of events to reach the present moment.[2] Second, Mackie’s point that each event in a beginningless past is only finitely distant from the present is irrelevant. For the issue isn’t whether any finite segment of a beginningless past can be traversed to reach the present, but rather whether the whole infinite past can be so traversed. To think that a whole infinite set can be traversed because each finite segment can be traversed is to commit the fallacy of composition.[3]

So much for stage-setting. What to make of this exchange? Mackie is correct, and Craig has misunderstood him -- or at least he has given Mackie's reply an uncharitable gloss. First, Mackie is correct to say that proponents of the kalam argument have misconstrued a beginningless traversal. For to say that the past is beginningless is to say that some infinite set of events or other has been traversed before every point in the past. But if so, then if a beginningless past is possible -- which is the very issue under dispute -- there can be no hurdle of going from a state of not having to having traversed an infinite in a beginningless past. Therefore, the only way in which one could go from a finite to an infinite traversal is if you began your traversal at some point. And this is why Mackie says that Craig conflates a beginningless past (i.e., {…, -3, -2, -1}) with a past that had a beginning an infinite amount of time ago (i.e., {1, 2, 3, …} or, say, {1, …-3, -2, -1}).

Second, in light of the previous point, we see why Craig is mistaken, or at least being uncharitable, in saying that Mackie has committed the fallacy of composition. For on the more charitable and forceful construal of Mackie's reply, Mackie is not arguing that because every finite segment of a beginningless past is traversable, the whole infinite past traversable. Rather, he’s saying that if the past is beginningless -- which, again, is the very issue under dispute -- then an infinite set of events has already been traversed before every point of a beginningless past, and that is why there is only a finite set of subsequent events between that point and the present. I thus conclude that Craig has failed to dislodge Mackie's criticism of the kalam argument here.

[1] See, for example, "The Cosmological Argument", in Copan, Paul and Paul K. Moser, eds. The Rationality of Theism (Routledge, 2003, 124-135.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Lolcats Bible Translation Project

My favorite version of the Bible is the Lolcats Version, here. As the name suggests, it's a version of the Bible written completely in lolspeak. A couple of basic translations to help you on your way: Yahweh is denoted by 'Ceiling Cat', and the Devil is denoted by 'Basement Cat'. Here's a sampling from Genesis 1.

You're welcome.

UPDATE: Here is a list of arguments for and against the existence of God in lolspeak. Gold, pure gold.

UPDATE: Did you know you can follow Ceiling Cat on Twitter? Now you do.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Facebook

I'm tentatively experimenting with a Facebook page. If the experiment turns out to be worthwhile, I'll keep the page and start linking my blog posts over there as well. Please feel free to search for my page there and "friends" me, if you'd like.

I can't tell if you're doing that ironically

I can't tell if you're doing that ironically

Posted using ShareThis

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Moreland, the Kalam Argument, and a Beginningless Past, Part 4

Moreland offers one more argument against beginningless traversals -- one he says was suggested to him by Dallas Willard (his mentor at USC). After a brief discussion of the nature of causal sequences, and how any given event depends on the actualization of every event in the causal sequence that led up to it, he expresses the argument as follows:

"...the present moment has as its ultimate chain of causal antecedents the entire history of the cosmos. If any past event has not already been actualized, then the present moment could not have occurred. This means that the past is actual and contains a specifiable, determinate number of events. This chain of events must have had a first member. Without a first member, there could be no second, third, or nth member in the chain where the nth member is the present event. But an infinite succession of past events would not have a determinate number of members nor would it have a first member. So if the past is actually infinite, the present moment could not have been caused; that is, it could not have come to be."[1]

In short, Moreland argues that the actualization of the present moment entails the finitude of the past. For the actuality of the present moment entails that its entire causal history has been actualized, since that is the causal chain upon which it depends. But the actuality of such a chain requires that it have a determinate, specifiable number of events, and that it have a first event. But if the past were infinite, it would meet neither condition. Therefore, the past is finite, and had a beginning or first event.

It will help to evaluate this argument if we express it a bit more formally:

1. The present moment M is actual.
2. If M is actual, then all the members of the set S of events that constitute M's causal chain have been actualized.
3. Therefore, all the members of S have been actualized. (from 1 and 2)
4. If all the members of S have been actualized, then S is constituted by a specifiable, determinate number of events, and S has a first member.
5. Therefore, S is constituted by a specifiable, determinate number of events, and S has a first member. (from 3 and 4)
6. If the past were beginningless, then S would not be comprised by a determinate number events and S would not have a first member.
7. Therefore, the past is not beginningless (from 5 and 6)

What to make of this argument?

Well, it's valid; so if the premises are true, then the conclusion follows of necessity. Furthermore: (3) follows from (1) and (2), (5) follows from (3) and (4), (7) follows from (5) and (6), and (1) and (2) look to be impeccable. That leaves us with (4) and (6). Why should we accept them?

For my purposes, I'll focus on (4). For I will argue that (4) is without sufficient justification, which is enough to undermine the force of the argument.

On to an evaluation of premise (4), then. Now (4) is a conditional statement, and its consequent has two conjuncts. We can thus split the conditional into two, viz.,

4a. If all the members of S have been actualized, then S is constituted by a specifiable, determinate number of events.

and

4b. If all the members of S have been actualized, then S has a first member.

Start with (4a). To evaluate the conditional, we'll need to know what Moreland means by a "specifiable, determinate number of events". A natural interpretation of the language is that it is meant to denote a number of events that can be specified by some natural number n. This reading is further supported by his use of such language in his discussion of actual infinites a few pages back, on p. 20. For there, he says that "a finite set has a definite number of elements which can be specified by counting the number of members in the set and assigning the appropriate number to that set. Thus, our set A had n=2 elements, and B had n=5." (italics mine) This interpretation is further confirmed by his use of the language in an argument we considered in a previous post -- the one on p. 29. In his argument there against the possibility of counting to infinity, he writes that at any point in such a count, one "can always specify the number he is currently counting. Furthermore, he can always add one more to what he has counted and thereby increase the series by one. Such a series can increase forever without limit, but will always be finite." (italics mine)

Thus, prima facie, it appears that by "specifiable, determinate number of events", Moreland at least means a finite number of events. But if so, then conditional (4a) asserts that the actualization of the causal sequence responsible for the present moment requires that the sequence be finite. But since that's the very point in dispute, Moreland can't just assert without argument that (4a) is true without begging the question against those antecedently convinced of the conclusion.

However, while Moreland doesn't explicitly offer an argument for (4a), he does offer a reason in support of (4b), and that rationale can be used to support (4a) as well. What about (4b), then? Well, that conditional asserts that the actuality of the present moment requires that its causal chain have a first member. But why think that? Recall Moreland's reason from the passage above: it's because "Without a first member, there could be no second, third, or nth member in the chain where the nth member is the present event." We can thus express Moreland's rationale as follows:

1. If the causal series S that led to the present moment lacks a first member, then S lacks a second, third, etc. member.
2. Therefore, S has a first member.

Unfortunately, (2) doesn't follow from (1). To get (2), we must add another premise:

1. If the causal series S that led to the present moment lacks a first member, then S lacks a second, third, etc. member.
1.1 S has a second, third, etc. member.
2. Therefore, S has a first member.

(2) then follows from (1) and (1.1) by Modus Tollens. Unfortunately, one cannot assert without argument that (1.1) is true without without begging the question against those who are antecedently unconvinced of the finitude of the past. For if the past is beginningless, then it has no second, third, etc. member, any more than the series ...-3, -2, 1 has a second, third, etc. member.

I'll belabor the point a bit more. Consider two epistemically possible causal sequences, represented by the following two series of numbers:

A: 1, 2, 3, ....

B: ...-3, -2, -1

Now it's of course true that any causal sequence of the sort that contains second, third, etc. events -- i.e., any sequence like A -- requires a first event. But of course, a beginningless causal sequence -- i.e., a sequence like B -- is precisely the sort that lacks second, third, etc. events. For a beginningless causal sequence is, by definition, a sequence that lacks a beginning, or first, event. Now of course, for all I've said, it could turn out that such an epistemically possible sequence like B is in fact metaphysically impossible. But the problem is that the metaphysical possibility of a causal sequence that lacks a first event -- i.e., the metaphysical possibility of a B-type causal sequence -- is the very issue in dispute here, and so Moreland can't just assume without argument that it's impossible without begging the question against the antecedently unconvinced. Unfortunately, though, that's precisely what Moreland seems to have done here.
===========================
[1] Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, pp. 28-29.
[2] in Moreland and Kai Neilsen's Does God Exist? The Great Debate (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990), pp. 197-217. That's where it is in my copy, anyway. The book has since been re-published with Prometheus Press.
[3] Ibid., pp. 203-204.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Moreland, the Kalam Argument, and a Beginningless Past, Part 3

Moreland offers an Aristotelian solution to one of Zeno's paradoxes as the basis of an argument against a beginningless past. Moreland sets up Zeno's Dichotomy paradox as follows:

"...Consider a runner who begins at some point A and who wishes to reach the midpoint between A and B. But before he can reach this midpoint, he must reach the midpoint of the midpoint. In order to move from any point to any other point, a runner must traverse an infinite number of points and this is impossible. Thus, [concludes Zeno] motion is an illusion."[1]

Moreland then argues that a structurally identical paradox applies to the hypothesis of a beginningless universe: he argues that if the past were beginningless, then the prospects of traversing all the events of the past to reach the present moment would be like those of Zeno's runner on the assumption that his task involved the traversal of an actual infinite: one couldn't even begin such a task, much less finish it.[2]

So Moreland thinks Zeno's Dichotomy paradox and his paradox for a beginningless past are structurally similar. His next step is to argue for a solution to the former, and then reason that, by analogy, the solution to the latter is thus similar. Thus, he argues that the most plausible solution to Zeno's Dichotomy paradox is to distinguish between an actual and a potential infinite, and to assert that the racer's task only involves the traversal of a potential infinite. And since all spatial distances that are merely potentially infinite are traversable in principle, the racer can traverse the whole track.[3] Similarly, the set of temporal distances in the universe's past is potentially infinite only, and thus finite. But that solution entails that the universe had a beginning. Therefore, thinks Moreland, the finitude of the past is justified.

What to make of this argument? One sort of worry about it is that it's not clear that the two paradoxes are sufficiently relevantly similar to justify Moreland's conclusion that their solutions are similar. For the runner's traversing task has a beginning or starting point; not so for a beginningless past. And the worry is that the feature that generates the problem in Zeno's Dichotomy parodox -- i.e., that the runner must start a task that has no starting point -- doesn't necessarily apply to a beginningless past. In other words, if the requirement of a start is merely a feature of Zeno's thought experiment, and not an essential property of traversals in general, then the grounds for thinking Zeno's runner's task is impossible do not provide grounds for thinking that traversing a beginningless past is impossible.

Now of course one might reply that it is an essential property of all traversals that they have a starting point. But the problem is that that's the very issue in dispute. For it's part of the very concept of a beginningless past that it involves traversing an infinite without a starting point. Therefore, whether or not such traversals are impossible, one cannot just assert the impossibility of a traversal that lacks a starting point without begging the question against the antecedently unconvinced.

By this time I'm no doubt belaboring the point, but here's a slightly more developed variation on the same worry: Roughly, the problem with the runner's task in Zeno's Dichotomy paradox is generated by the following inconsistent set of propositions.

1. The racetrack consists in a particular infinite open interval of spatial distances (IOISD).
2. The runner can traverse IOISD from the direction of the open "end".
3. The runner must start his traversal of IOISD if he is to engage in it at all.
4. All Infinite open intervals lack a first member from the direction of the open "end".
5. All intervals that can be traversed by starting have a first member.

For given propositions (1) and (3)-(5), Zeno's runner is required to start the traversal if he is to engage in it at all. But given that there is no starting point or beginning to the open "end" of the interval, it follows that the runner can never finish his traversal, on the grounds that he can never begin. He will thus forever remain "outside" of, or "external" to, the segment represented by the negative integers. And if that's right, then (2) is false, i.e., the runner cannot traverse IOISD from the open "end".

Now, at first glance, Moreland's paradox about a beginningless past looks sufficiently similar in structure to warrant a similar solution:

1'. The past consists in a particular infinite open interval of temporal distances (IOITD).
2'. IOITD can be traversed from the direction of the open "end"
3'. The traversal of IOITD must have a start if the traversal is to occur at all.
4. All infinite open intervals lack a first member from the direction of the open "end".
5. All intervals that can be traversed by starting have a first member.

However, at second glance, there are reasons for doubting that the runner's predicament in Zeno's Dichotomy paradox is sufficiently analogous to the case of traversing a beginningless past. For the reason why we're supposed to accept (3) in the former paradox -- i.e., that the runner's task must have a starting point -- is that Zeno stipulated that it have one. Now Moreland may be right that all traversals require a starting point. However, when it comes to the basis for accepting the parallel (3') in the latter paradox, something on the order of a mere stipulative ban on traversals without starting points is not going to cut it for those antecedently unconvinced of a finite past; they need a reason to think that it belongs to the very nature of a traversal that it has a starting point. But as we've seen, Moreland has so far failed to offer such a reason. Pending such a reason, then, traversals without beginnings remain epistemic possibilities for the unconvinced.

I conclude, then, that Moreland's use of Zeno's Dichotomy paradox fails to justify the claim that the past is necessarily finite.
===================
[1] Scaling the Secular City, p. 30.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Morriston's New Critique of Divine Command Ethics

Wes Morriston's latest paper, "What if God Commanded Something Terrible? A Worry for Divine-Command Meta-Ethics (Religious Studies 45 (2009), pp. 249-67), is now available at his department webpage. Here is the link.

It's worth mentioning that, along the way, Morriston critiques Robert Adams' version of divine command theory in his Finite and Infinite Goods, which is arguably the most sophisticated version of the theory.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Moreland, the Kalam Argument, and a Beginningless Past, Part 2

Here's another argument Moreland offers for the finitude of the past in Scaling the Secular City:

"...suppose a person were to think backward through the series of events in the past...Now he will either come to a beginning or he will not. If he comes to a beginning, then the universe obviously had a beginning. But if he never could, even in principle, reach a first moment, then this means that it would be impossible to start with the present and run backward through all the events in the history of the cosmos...But since events really move in the other direction, this is equivalent to admitting that if there was no beginning, the past could have never been exhaustively traversed to reach the present. Counting to infinity through the series 1, 2, 3, ... involves the same number of steps as does counting down from infinity to zero through the series -5, -4, -3, -2, -1, 0. In fact this second series may be even more difficult to traverse than the first. Apart from the fact that both series have the same number of members to be traversed, the second series cannot even get started. This is because it has no first member!" (p. 29)

Stripped down to its essentials, we can express the core of the argument as follows:

1. If the past is beginningless, then it’s impossible in principle to traverse from the present all the way through the past.
2. If it’s impossible in principle to traverse something in one direction, then it’s impossible in principle to traverse it in the other direction.
3. Therefore, if the past is beginningless, then it’s impossible in principle to traverse the past all the way to the present. (from 1 and 2)
4. But it’s not impossible in principle to traverse the past all the way to the present (after all, here we are!).
5. Therefore, that past is not beginningless. (from 3 and 4)

What to make of this argument? Well, it's formally valid; so if the premises are true, then the conclusion follows of necessity. Furthermore, I grant (1), at least for the sake of argument. Also, (3) follows from (1) and (2), and (4) is undeniable. That leaves us with (2). Why are we supposed to accept it?

One might think that (2) has a lot going for it, since all finite sequences are such that if one direction can be traversed in principle (at least mentally -- leave aside worries about actual traversals into the past), then so can the other direction (again, at least mentally).

However, one might worry that although this is so for finite temporal sequences, it's not obviously so for infinite temporal sequences. After all, there clearly are a number of differences between finite and infinite traversals. and pending further investigation, how can we be sure that no such difference makes a difference? Perhaps, then, we need a little more help before we're able to confidently accept (2).

Thankfully, Moreland doesn't leave us guessing as to his own reasons for accepting (2). For recall that he offered two such reasons. First, he argued that admitting that it's impossible in principle to start with the present and mentally traverse the whole past "is equivalent to admitting that if there was no beginning, the past could have never been exhaustively traversed to reach the present", on the grounds that "Counting to infinity through the series 1, 2, 3, ... involves the same number of steps as does counting down from infinity to zero through the series -5, -4, -3, -2, -1, 0."

What to make of his first argument for (2)? Now Moreland is clearly correct to say that there are the same number of steps in each direction of a beginingless history. However, it isn't clear that sameness in number of steps entails sameness in difficulty of traversal. In fact (and quite unlike finite traversals), there are several asymmetries in direction of traversal that seem relevant to difficulty or ease of traversal in a beginningless past:

(i) Going forward, there is an endpoint to reach; not so going backward.
One might believe that no infinite spatial or temporal distance is crossable on the grounds that it's self-evident that one cannot reach the end of that which has no end. Suppose we grant this. Still, this point only applies to the case of starting at the present and mentally traversing through a beginningless past; it doesn't apply to the crucial case here of a traversal from a beginningless past to the present. For the latter has an endpoint, viz., the current moment. Therefore, whether or not the intuition about the impossibility of reaching the end of that which has no end is correct, it doesn't support Moreland's premise (2).

(ii) Going forward, you don’t have to begin at some point; not so going backward. One might believe that no infinite is crossable on the basis of Moreland's argument discussed in the previous post, viz., that if one begins an infinite count from 0 or 1 to infinity, one will at every point be counting a finite number n, in which case the set that corresponds to n at that point cannot be put into a 1-1 correspondence with any of its proper subsets. Suppose we grant this. Still, this point only applies to the case of starting at the present and mentally traversing through a beginningless past; it doesn't apply to the case of a traversal from a beginningless past to the present moment. For the latter has no starting point. Therefore, unless and until Moreland (or anyone else) can come up with an argument that it's necessary for all traversals to have a beginning (a claim that Moreland repeatedly asserts without argument), Moreland's line of reasoning here is unsupported.

(iii) Going forward, some infinite traversal or other is completed at each point; not so going backward. This point is related to the last. One might believe that no infinite is crossable on the basis of Moreland's argument, discussed in the previous post, that if one tries to count to infinity by beginning at some point -- say, with the number 1 or 0 -- then one will never get over the hurdle of going from having counted a finite set to having counted an infinite set. Grant that this is true. But while this would then apply to the task of starting with the present moment and mentally traversing all the events of a beginningless past, it doesn't apply to the task of never starting -- but always counting -- from a beginningless past and then stopping with the present moment. For there is no such hurdle with such a task. For before every point in a beginningless past, some infinite set of events or other has already been traversed -- one is always on the other side of the hurdle, so to speak. Now as we have seen, Moreland thinks that traversals lacking a starting point are impossible; that is, he thinks that all traversals require a starting point. However, that is the very point at issue in the debate about the possibility of a beginningless past. For part of what it means to say that a beginningless past is possible is to say that a traversal without a beginning is possible. Therefore, Moreland can't just assume without argument that all traversals require a starting point without begging the question. I conclude, then, that Moreland's point here cannot serve as the basis for premise (2) of his argument.

Prima facie, then, there seems to be good reason to think that Moreland is wrong about this: direction of traversal does seem to make a difference with respect to difficulty of traversal. Or, more weakly: Given these asymmetries, at the very least we must say that Moreland owes us an explanation as to why they have no bearing on ease or difficulty of traversing a beginningless past. Pending such an explanation, it appears that Moreland's first argument for (2) is undercut.

What about his second reason? Here's the relevant part of the passage above: "In fact this second series [i.e., counting down the negative integers and ending at 0] may be even more difficult to traverse than the first [i.e., starting with 0 or 1 and then counting through all the natural numbers]. Apart from the fact that both series have the same number of members to be traversed, the second series cannot even get started. This is because it has no first member!"

What to make of this second argument for (2)? Well, we've already seen what is wrong with it in the previous post, so here I'll just summarize that discussion: of course a beginningless traversal could never "get started", but no one is claiming that it could. Rather, by the very nature of the case, a beginningless series has no beginning point from which it “got started”; if such a past is possible -- which is the very issue under dispute -- then it’s always been going, in the sense that prior to every event, there is another event that caused it. Furthermore, while it’s true that in traversing such a series you never get to a point in which a "first" infinite is traversed, this is only because some infinite temporal segment or other is already crossed at every point in a beginningless past. We also saw in a previous post that one is guilty of an illicit quantifier shift if from this one reasons that such a past would absurdly contain an infinite segment that was not formed by successive addition.

It looks, then, that Moreland's case for the crucial premise (2) is undercut. Thus, whether or not the past is finite, the arguments we've discussed from Moreland fail to give us a good reason for thinking so.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Moreland, the Kalam Argument, and a Beginningless Past, Part I

J.P. Moreland offers the following argument against a beginningless past in Scaling the Secular City:

"It is impossible to count to infinity. For if one counts forever and ever, he will still be, at every moment, in a place where he can always specify the number he is currently counting. Furthermore, he can always add one more member to what he has counted and thereby increase the series by one. A series formed by successive addition is a potential infinite. Such a series can increase forever without limit, but it will always be finite. This means that the past must have been finite. For the present moment is the last member of the series of past events formed by successive addition. And since one cannot reach infinity one at a time, then if the past was actually infinite, the present moment could not have been reached. For to come to the present moment, an actual infinite would have to have been crossed." (p. 29, my copy. Italics added)

We can express the argument a bit more formally as follows:

1. At every point in the growth of any potential infinite, one can specify its cardinal number via a natural number and increase that number by 1. (premise)
2. If at every point in the growth of any potential infinite, one can specify its cardinal number via a natural number and increase that number by 1, then no potential infinite can be transformed into an actual infinite. (premise)
3. Therefore, no potential infinite can be transformed into an actual infinite. (from 1 and 2)
4. Any series formed by successive addition is a potential infinite. (premise)
5. The past is a series formed by successive addition. (premise)
6. Therefore, the past is a potential infinite. (from 4 and 5)
7. Therefore, the past cannot be actually infinite. (from 3 and 6)

The argument is thus formally valid; so if the premises should turn out to be true, then the conclusion follows of necessity. Why, then, should we accept the premises?

Well, as is indicated above, (3) follows (1) and (2), (6) follows from (4) and (5), and (7) follows from (3) and (6), Furthermore, (5) is beyond dispute, and I'm inclined to accept (1) and (2). That leaves (4), i.e., the claim that any series formed by successive addition is a potential infinite. Why should we accept it?

Now in the passage above, Moreland offers a good reason for thinking that any series formed by successive addition that has a beginning is a potential infinite -- i.e., any series naturally represented by the following series of natural numbers:


1 2 3 ....


Furthermore, he reasoned persuasively that no such series can be transformed from a potential infinite into an actual infinite.

However, that line of reasoning has no immediate bearing against the prospects of a beginningless series formed by successive addition, i.e., a series naturally represented by the following series of negative integers:


...-3 -2 -1


Rather, all that follows from that line of reasoning is the weaker claim that if the latter series is possible, it doesn't involve the transformation of a potential infinite into an actual infinite. But of course, those not antecedently convinced of the claimed necessary finitude of the past agree with that. For if the past should turn out to be beginningless, then some infinite set of events or other exists at each point in the past. But if so, then there is no event in the past that involved going from a state of not having traversed at least one infinite set of events to having traversed at least one such set. And if that's right, then if a beginningless past is possible, then it is a series of events formed by successive addition that does not involve turning a potential infinite into an actual infinite.

Thus, those who are antecedently unconvinced of the necessity of a beginningless past believe that it's at least epistemically possible that (i) the past is actually infinite, (ii) it was formed by successive addition, and (iii) the formation of the past did not involve turning a potential infinite into an actual infinite. But if a past of this sort should turn out to be possible, premise (4) is false. Thus, to adequately support premise (4), Moreland must come up with a line of reasoning that rules out the epistemic possibility expressed by (i)-(iii). But as we've seen, Moreland's reasoning in the above-quoted argument fails to do that; rather, it only rules out the possibility of an actually infinite series formed by successive addition that has a beginning. I conclude, then, that Moreland's grounds for premise (4) are inadequate.

Perhaps, though, Moreland construes a beginningless past in the way he does in an attempt to be charitable? For one might worry that if, in a beginningless past, some infinite set or other is traversed before every event, then such a past has at least one infinite proper subset of events that wasn’t formed by successive addition, which is absurd.

I don't know if this is why Moreland construes a beginningless past in the way he does, but such a worry would be ill-founded, based as it is on an inference involving an instance of the quantifier shift fallacy, reasoning from

1) Every point in a beginningless past is such that there exists an actual infinite set of events that existed prior to it.

to

2) There is an actual infinite set of events, such that it exists prior to every point in a beginningless past.

which is the same illicit pattern of inference involved in reasoning that because every child has a mother who directly gave birth to them, there is a mother who directly gave birth to every child.

No, if the past is beginningless, then while an infinite subset of events exists prior to each event, it's a new infinite every time. To illustrate: pick any event --say, the present day -- and represent it by the integer -1. Then the set of past days traversed for each of the previous days, and including today, can be represented as follows:


...
....
.....
2 days ago: {..., -5, -4, -3}
1 day ago: {..., -5, -4, -3, -2}
Present day: {..., -5, -4, -3, -2, -1}

Thus, if a past of this sort is possible, then as is represented above, the set of days traversed at each day of the past is actually infinite. However, at each day, the set of days traversed is different. So, for example, the set of days traversed today contains, in addition to the set of days traversed yesterday, the new member represented by -1, viz., today. Thus, as I said a moment ago, if the past is beginningless, then while the set of events traversed at each point in the past is actually infinite, it's a new set every time, as each passing event adds a new member to the previous set.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Matt Yglesias on High-Quality Rail and Economic Stimulus

Matt Yglesias offers what I take to be an excellent proposal about stimulating the economy and creating jobs: railways. I've mentioned this before.

Plus, it'd be nice to catch up with the rest of the modern world wrt high-speed, high-quality public transportation.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Moreland on the Kalam Cosmological Argument

I recently re-read J.P. Moreland's defense of the kalam cosmological argument in his classic apologetics text, Scaling the Secular City. Good Lord.

Virtually all his arguments against the traversability of actual infinites presuppose that any traversal must have a beginning. In other words, he just blatantly begs the question against the possibility of a beginningless past. At least Craig offers arguments against the possibility of beginningless traversals, viz., his "immortal counter" reductio and his variation on the Tristram Shandy Paradox (which, unfortunately, have been decisively critiqued by (e.g.) Wes Morriston -- here, for example). I hope to discuss Moreland's arguments in detail some time soon.

UPDATE: Here is a link to a detailed discussion of Moreland's arguments against the traversability of a beginningless past.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Last Book in J.L. Schellenberg's Trilogy...

...The Will to Imagine: A Justification of Skeptical Religion, is scheduled to come out this month. As the link above indicates, you can pre-order it now at Amazon.com. Links to reviews of the previous two books in the trilogy can be found here.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Amsterdam



Here is my postcard to you from Amsterdam, as promised. Wish I could move here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Yurp



Hi gang,

What kind of friend would be if I didn't send you a postcard? Here ya' go. Today I'm off to Giverny to take a peek at Monet's gardens. After that, I'm off to Amsterdam for two days. I hope to send you another postcard when I get there. From there, I go to the philosophy conference for two days at the university of Cologne. Then I'm back to the States on the 30th.


Hope all is well with you and yours,
EA

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Review of New Waves in Philosophy of Religion

Kelly James Clark reviews this new collection (edited by Yuijin Nagasawa and Eric Wielenberg) here, at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

infinity by merrick

My favorite song by Merrick. The version from the indie film, The Minus Man, is better though.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Wes Morriston on Genocide and the Old Testament

Here is Wes' recent paper, "Did God Command Genocide? A Challenge to the Biblical Inerrantist", Philosophia Christi 11:1 (2009), pp. 7-26.

This paper really needed to be written.

UPDATE: Paul Copan has written a rejoinder to Morriston's paper. It can be found here. A tip of the hat to TKD for the link. I leave it to the reader to decide whether Copan's reply is adequate.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Marilyn McCord Adams on Philosophy Bites

Marilyn McCord Adams discusses the problem of evil, and the problem of horrendous evil in particular, on the current podcast episode of Philosophy Bites. Interestingly, she argues that being a theist is a necessary precondition for having rational hope in a good future for humanity, given the persistence and pervasiveness of horrendous moral evil.

Marilyn Adams is a prominent philosopher of religion, along with her husband, Robert Adams. Both recently taught at Oxford, but have since accepted senior offers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (starting next Fall).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Paul Moser's The Elusive God...

...is receiving careful exposition and discussion at Prosblogion. Here is the latest installment.

Paul K. Moser is the Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Loyola University (Chicago). His recent book, The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology, is a novel and important defense of Christian theism.

Btw, he has another novel defense of Christian theism (The Evidence for God: Religious Knowledge Reexamined) coming out in December. It looks as though he will argue that the evidence for the Christian God is the moral transformation of believers.

mazzy star - blue flower {live}

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Conservative Christian Theism and the Argument from Non-Obviousness

Here's an argument I'm toying with. Note: it's very rough -- lots of cleaning up to do, qualifications to make, etc. At this point, I just want to get the basic point on the table and (hopefully) get some feedback.

Some apologists today describe the epistemic force of the case for theism in very modest terms: Christians are within their epistemic rights in believing in God. This sort of view allows that while it can be reasonable to be a theist, it can also be reasonable to be a non-theist.[1]

Apologists who make these sorts of claims are often conservative Christians -- people who believe that, e.g., Paul's epistles are accurately recorded in the New Testament. However, I'm not sure I see how these two views can fit together coherently. For Paul seems to have thought that it's not possible for a normal adult to be a rational non-theist. In fact, he seems to think that such non-belief is only possible by illicitly suppressing the truth about what one knows about God. Here are some of Paul's words in Romans 1: 18-23:

"18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

Thus, from the passage above, it seems that Paul thinks that non-believers suppress the obvious truth about an evident God, and that the obviousness of the existence and nature of God is seen through the Creation. And if that's right, then it seems that the cost of the humble claims apologists make about the evidence for theism is holding a view that entails that Paul was wrong: what Paul says in the epistle to the Romans is false. It seems to me, then, that apologists have a choice: (i) defend the claim that the evidence makes the existence and nature of a theistic God evident, or (ii) reject conservative Christianity.

Start with the first option. Taking this route requires apologists to defend the view that the existence and nature of God can not just be seen, but clearly seen (as Paul says in Romans), such that if some don't believe, then they are illicitly suppressing the truth about God. But that's a tough pill to swallow. For even among the Christian philosophers who think the evidence for theism isn't too shabby, few think the evidence is that strong.

The other alternative is to say that Paul was wrong, and that what he said in Romans is false.[2] But again, that's a hard pill to swallow for a conservative Christian. In fact, that seems to be incompatible with conservative Christianity: at a minimum, they have to reject a doctrine taught by the apostle Paul.

In short, it appears that a common contemporary apologetic stance about the evidence for theism is incompatible with conservative Christianity, and that this leads to a dilemma: either the apologist must hold onto Paul's teaching and strengthen their claim about the clarity and strength of the evidence for theism, or retain their modest claim about the evidence and reject Paul's teaching about it. But the former requires holding an implausible view about the strength of the evidence, and the latter requires saying that Paul's teaching in Romans is false. I'm not sure the apologist will be happy with either horn of this dilemma.

In fact, it appears that one can take the argument further and state it as an argument against conservative Christian theism:

1. Either the existence and nature of God are clearly seen through the creation or the apostle Paul was wrong.
2. The existence and nature of God are not clearly seen through the creation (it's possible to survey the evidence for theism, and yet rationally disbelieve, or at least suspend judgement).
3. Therefore, the apostle Paul was wrong. (from 1 and 2)
4. If the apostle Paul was wrong, then conservative Christian theism is false.
5. Therefore, conservative Christian theism is false. (from 3 and 4)

This argument is stronger than the standard argument from divine hiddenness. For the latter is open to the Skeptical Theist reply that for all we know, God has reasons for remaining hidden, and these reasons are beyond our ability to grasp. But on the current argument, the NT seems to leave no room for this, as the NT seems to commit the conservative believer to the thesis that in fact God is not hidden; the evidence for his existence is not only seen, but clearly seen.
--------------------------
[1] Of course, such a view is compatible with the view that the evidence for theism is much stronger than that. However, as I will argue below, conservative Christians are committed to the stronger, latter sort of view qua conservative Christians.
[2] For simplicity's sake, I leave out the disjunct that the New Testament inaccurately reports what Paul said on the matter, as that option also entails that conservative Christian theism is false.
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